RSA 2012: NSA Pilots 100 Android Phones

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2012-03-01

Smartphones running Google's Android mobile operating system are secure enough to make top-secret and classified phone calls from the field, according to the National Security Agency.

The NSA is currently conducting a pilot program of 100 Motorola smartphones running a modified version of Android, Margaret Salter, a technical director of the Information Assurance Directorate at the NSA, said during a presentation at the RSA Conference Feb. 29. The NSA chose Android for the project because of the fact that it was open source.

"It's not because iOS was lousy, no," Salter said. Android offered "freedom" to make modifications, she said.

NSA's IAD has been responsible for creating proprietary communications equipment for the U.S. Government. The process was generally more expensive and took "years to approve a device," Salter said. The devices were incredible secure, but were often not "incredibly easy to use," she said.

For the pilot, dubbed Project Fishbowl, reflected IAD's attempt to start using best of breed commercial gear that could be customized. NSA needed certain controls to manage the classified conversations and was able to make those changes to Android. "We took stuff out the OS we didn't need," which made the attack surface very small, Salter said.

Salter didn't discuss the changes or which Motorola brand it used in the piolot.

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